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Senior Pastor Perspective: Feed Up or Fed Up

 —  July 17, 2013 — 18 Comments

I’ve been feeling something for a while now.

Maybe you have, too.

It’s something I’ve even “prayed” about… like how Christians say they pray about things, but really just conclude something they hope God’s okay with.

closedpulpitI plan to leave my church.

I’ll stand in front of my congregation and say,

“I’m going to attend elsewhere. Things don’t feel like they used to. There’s another congregation that seems more put-together and exciting. They even somehow seem more ‘biblical’ over there, too. You guys just aren’t feeding me anymore.”

Such a plan only lasts for a nano-second.

(Translation: I’m not actually planning on leaving my church. I’m confessing a temptation I feel every now and then… maybe you have, too.)

I’m supposed to be mature.

I need to think bigger than that. You need to think bigger than that.

We need to think bigger than that.

As a lead pastor, I do get emails from people who do this almost every season. It’s like the changing weather makes people change their church.

Thankfully, there always seems to be a remnant through God’s grace – a core group who understands things at a healthier level. These are the “for better or for worse” servant-leaders who get it and push through spiritual walls for the sake of what God is doing in them and through them.

The problem is on a general, church-wide scale it feels like when people aren’t “feeling it” they’re eventually gone:

  • “The worship team doesn’t play the songs I like.”
  • “I purposefully didn’t come for weeks as a test. No one from the church called me. Never mind that I’m not in a small group… the point is…”
  • “The building campaign should be run this way…. instead of that way.”
  • “I showed up for an event and it wasn’t what I expected.”
  • “It’s not how it was when I first started attending.”
  • “I’m just not feeling fed.”

It’s the last one that grinds me the most… not because I believe I’m a great preacher, but if God’s Word is the foundation of a message the only reason people couldn’t feel “fed” is if they closed their “mouths.” According to Jesus, God’s seed is good – it’s the soil that has the problem. Maybe it’s just easier to blame a preacher or church than personally own that.

Why am I posting this here?

There’s a reason why your senior pastor seems worn down some daysit’s because your senior pastor is worn down some days.

Senior pastors often feel like plate spinners who are trying to keep things healthy so people stay happy. It’s not our job, but it somehow becomes our job. It ultimately makes us want to work somewhere where people demonstrate long-term commitment and patronage… like their favorite ice cream store. (Sadly, that comparison is truer than we’d like to admit.)

Right now, go reaffirm a “for better or for worse” commitment to your church and its senior leadership. While you’re at it, dare others to do the same.

Feed up… before he or she gets fed up.

What are some of the “reasons” you’ve heard someone left a church? Share a comment. (Maybe by confessing some of the insanity we’ll better recognize it before it comes out of us.)

Tony Myles

Tony Myles

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Tony Myles is a youth ministry veteran, author, speaker, volunteer youth worker and lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio... and he really likes smoothies.

18 responses to Senior Pastor Perspective: Feed Up or Fed Up

  1. Tell us how you really fell, Brother Tony. LOL :) There are times I read a blog post (like this one here) and I can literally feel the frustration one is trying to relate. I’m sure that is a plus on your writing style. I enjoyed the blog but did want to add a small two cents of my own, if you don’t mind? After all, that’s one reason people blog … to get feedback. Yes?

    There IS a time and a place when a person really should leave a church. You find fault with the congregants but a blurb in there with their side might have made it a little more balanced. Just sayin’. Enjoyed the blog though! Keep up the good work.

    • Tony Myles

      Thanks,Rose. To be fair, sure… there may come a time when someone should leave a church. Just this past weekend I shared with our congregation that if the church ever stops preaching from the Bible or spouting theology that smells of “Just do whatever you want… we affirm you,” they should leave.

      Arguably, would you agree with me that this is rarely the case? That most people leave churches for short-sighted reasons?

  2. “I’m leaving because there is no opportunity for me to serve where I feel God is calling me.”
    Read – “I’m leaving because I want to serve in this area, or that, and I think I am better than the person who is already doing it. And if you don’t replace that person with me, I am going to go.”

    • Tony Myles

      Ouch! That can be an honest read, John. Then again, in some congregations people do feel a lid and wonder if that means they should go elsewhere. Still, some of my greatest internal growth happened when I didn’t get what I craved externally. It either makes you dig deeper roots (which is where God supplies some of His greatest nutrients) or makes you fly away so you can land where you want. Imagine how churches would look if we all tended to the roots… just imagine….

  3. Funny you should post this… Definitely challenged me. I switched churches about a year ago. I definitely believe it was a God thing. The church I was coming from I had been at for a really long time and it was very comfortable for me. There were a lot of things leading to me switching (nothing negative).

    Anyway, I love my current church but it’s honestly kinda far away. And because of the distance it’s been really hard for me to be able to really connect in the ways I want to. SoI’ve been mildly tossing around switching again. This is strange for me because I’m typically an extremely die hard loyal person with things. It’s funny to me because the church I’ve been thinking about switching to is yours. What are your thoughts on that kind of thing? Is it something you think I should just muscle through? Just curious as to your opinion!

    • Tony Myles

      I appreciate you wrestling with this. Given that you’re thinking about switching to the church I’m at, I should perhaps point out we’re full of the same amazing potential to be awesome or not-so-awesome as any congregation. We’re a mix of servant-leaders, attendees, visitors and more. We get a lot right when we get a lot right; we get a lot wrong when we get a lot wrong. My hope is that by being Bible-based and turning to God on everything He can draw straight using crooked lines… maybe over time those lines won’t be “as” crooked.

      That said, the other thing I’d offer is that there is no direct biblical teaching on this. At best, you see people plugging into the church in their community while being mindful of the Church at large. In this sense, the value we see the Early Church living out is that it seems odd to make the “drive” when God’s drive is to love your “neighbor” as you love yourself.

      I can share two examples of how a long-distance relationship may or may not work out:

      1) We had a family who drove almost an hour every week to our church. They were in the trenches for many years. When life got nuts on their end, it became hard to stay in sync. They likewise felt the challenge to plug into Bible studies and more. Granted, they did it… but the distance always was a factor. Recently they’ve plugged in locally somewhere and their kids are more active in youth group and more. I miss them terribly, but celebrate this choice.

      2) Another family was making a long drive to us – almost an hour as well. After a year or so, they were so blessed by what we were doing that they tried to plug in somewhere locally and “bring that” to them. Strangely enough, it was more difficult for that to happen than they realized. So now they’re back with us and are back on track to being fully-engaged members. I’ve become mindful of their drive and have tried to create events and small group opportunities that are closer to their neck of the woods now, too.

      I share that simply to state the obvious – a long distance relationship is full of challenges. It requires extra work. Granted, so do close-by relationships… but maybe what makes it easier is you can quickly say, “Hey – let’s go grab some Panera together and talk about that.”

      Talk with God on this. Likewise, don’t just slide out the door of your current church without really talking with its leadership. I was honest with someone recently who left and said, “I won’t chase you… but give me the next 30 minutes to be a friend and a pastor… you don’t have to leave, as God does His best work when we aren’t squirming but stay still. If after these 30 minutes are up you’re still feeling the vibe to leave, then let’s talk about what it means for us to keep being friends together even though we won’t bump into each other like we’re used to.”

      Hope that helps. If I see you in Connection, let me know. Meanwhile, praying for you in this today.

  4. So it’s always the congregations fault? Not the pastor or the lead team? Not due to a lack of leadership, or micro-managed leadership? What if a church member attended for years, volunteered regularly, attended regularly, went to small groups, went to bible studies, was really plugged in? But over the course of months watched key people get fed up and leave? People that had been in the church for years, leading people, volunteering, now leaving and going elsewhere? Its still the congregations fault? The pastor shouldn’t start trying to evaluate what could possibly be happening and maybe taking some ownership of it? Its just that these people are closed minded and church hopping. Can’t commit to their church and God.

    • Tony Myles

      Thanks for your reply, Anonymous. It sounds like there is deep emotion involved in your proposed hypothetical…. if there’s been hurt, or perhaps anger – I’m truly sorry. I’d hope you’ve been offered the opportunity to sit down with whomever hurt you and that you haven’t let yourself become unstoppably cynical about it. Sometimes how we feel can become the one thing we hang onto, even when we realize the situation may be bigger than our perspective.

      I thought that was the article I wrote. I reread it and didn’t see a sweeping statement like the one you’re suggesting – that it’s “always the congregation’s fault.” The only place I may have given you a breadcrumb for that is where I said that a person who says they’re not feeling fed isn’t (biblically speaking) a valid excuse if the Bible is being offered at the core of the church. Again, you could reference the teaching Jesus offers in Mathew 13 or Isaiah 55:11 that specifically says when God’s Word is offered it is never voided out.

      The other matter is the person you describe…. perhaps you’re describing yourself or someone else. If it’s the latter, hopefully you’re objective enough to admit that you may be more subjective in this that you realize. Maybe there’s more to what you’ve heard or perceived than what you’ve been given (again, that’s the article I wrote). If someone we care about feels hurt we may take on their perspective – be it consciously or unconsciously – as if the battle is person-vs-person, flesh-vs-flesh. Remember, Ephesians 6 reminds us that our battle is against Satan – not people.

      That’s what I would hope of the person you describe. So again, if it’s you… let me speak into that. The person you’re describing sounds like a core participant in the church, which in most cases some would describe to be a leader. What that person did would have influence on others. Perhaps if they switched churches, they’d suddenly find their car filled up with others they influence as they went to that church – not because people objectively had the same issues, but perhaps because that person didn’t realize his or her influence on others. If that’s you, I hope you handle that with the appropriate measure of sobriety and wisdom. Others will follow in your footsteps, so hopefully you’re a person of reconciliation, “for better or for worse.”

      Maybe we’re not talking about you, though. Either way, let’s elevate the hypothetical into the biblical. If the pastor or leadership you describes has gaps, here’s what the Bible says we’re to do with that:

      - If it’s because of sin, you have Matthew 18 to follow as a blueprint. Don’t skip over step 1 to step 2… before you talk with others, sit down and confront the person who is in sin. If you do, you can help him or her see his sin; if you avoid this step, then that’s your sin. Someone may have to confront you on it.

      - If it’s because of the lack of a functional structure, then stay with your church family like you would a family member. Again, the Bible shows that as the first church grew (Acts 1-6) that great things were happening at the core but it had functional hurdles. They worked that out together instead of jumping ship. Just imagine… what if you and I did that?

      - If it’s because of stories that are circulating, cut out the gossip instead of adding to it – even with a listening ear. For example, just today I had someone say, “I heard…” and I had to say, “Go to the source. I’m one of them, and I could tell you this much.” Suddenly a full emotion that had accompanied a half-truth got put into it’s actual context. Proverbs 18:8 and Ephesians 4:29 offer great challenge in this.

      I wish I could sit across the table from you right now and hear your story. Maybe I could share mine. Perhaps we’d help each other fall that much more in love with the idea of what Jesus thought up when He handed things off to broken people in Acts 1:8. I mean, just think about that… if Jesus has that kind of faith in “us,” how can we not have that kind of faith in His “faith in us?”

      Then again, maybe you’re far away from me. Or maybe you’re just down the street. If it’s the latter, let’s hang out. If it’s the former, email me at tonymyles@hotmail.com and we’ll chat.

      What I do know is that Satan would love to let what’s happening “today” in your scenario be the final chapter. Obviously the person you described had a long season (of years?) where things were awesome. Let’s not overlook those chapters because of where the page is today… the person you described may have issues with their pastor, but isn’t it partly because of their pastor that they had the earlier season of growth and friendships? Perhaps their “favorite” Bible study teacher or small group leader wouldn’t have even been around had not the leadership been structured in such a way that welcomed him or her in. Can we remember that “ink” as we turn into the next chapter together as the people of God?

      Look me up, either way. Praying you do.

  5. I would just like to say that your post was well written and you expressed yourself well. I have some sympathy for senior pastors; it cannot be an easy task. I attend a large church and have never had a relationship with the senior pastor, but have learned to have respect for him. Another thing I have learned from the many years I have been at my church (seeing much change occur) is that my pride will be my biggest downfall in life. I have been humbled over the years and have learned that I can survive change, “feed” myself (as well as expect some “feeding” from the pulpit), and learn to be a little less touchy. Thanks, Tony.

    • Tony Myles

      Truly appreciate your feedback. More importantly, your comments… we all have the capacity to grow into the type of maturity you describe. The hurdle, of course, is it’s easier not to and/or find others who don’t want to. Let’s do this!

  6. Since I am away from my office and computer for a week, I will make a short response by asking a question. “When did happiness, comfort, fulfillment, and personal spiritual growth become the responsibility of someone else or the pastor.”

    Yes, we pastors are to help in the equipping process and by creating environments for feeding; however, it is God and our relationship with His Word, His Son, and His Spirit that leads to a fullness, wholeness, completeness, peace, joy, and contentment. Moving from one congregation will never satisfy feelings of being discontent.

    In all my years of ministry, fulfillment and contentment is only achieved by those who are self-feeders… Impacted by a freeness to continually worship our Father, connect in Biblical community- both in fellowship and weekly authentic discipleship opportunities, and by those serving on mission and in the ministry… Serving in the area of your giftedness.

    If one does not seek to pursue this type of relationship by participating in these areas of ministry… Spiritual un-fulfillment will prevail. A pastor or ministry leader can only help you plug into opportunities. Satisfaction only comes from one’s relationship with the Father. If one refuses to participate in these area that foster fruit and joy; then, they are not a follower of Christ… They are a follower of self, man, or exciting events.

    Being fed is the responsibility of the Christian… The churches responsibility is journey with and encourage the Christian to do what God has called them to do. A call to discipleship is a call to follow Jesus… Not the pastor… Not the church! Be who God called you to be… in the church, to the church, for the the church to expand His Kingdom. To God be all Glory!

    • Tony Myles

      Shan – you are incredibly spot on. Thanks for loaning your wisdom, which is not just completely quotable, but completely livable. May we rise up into it. (P.S. My favorite quote: “Yes, we pastors are to help in the equipping process and by creating environments for feeding; however, it is God and our relationship with His Word, His Son, and His Spirit that leads to a fullness, wholeness, completeness, peace, joy, and contentment. Moving from one congregation will never satisfy feelings of being discontent.”)

  7. The first Anon (not the same as the 2nd or 3rd) July 18, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Thanks for the insight! Definitely going to consider what you said. I don’t take decisions like this lightly, most certainly going to have a good bit of prayer and thought put into it.

  8. Daily people’s defense July 18, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Have you ever stepped back and reevaluated yourself? And thought that maybe the pastor could be the problem and not someone else. If so many people are leaving, would it honestly be a fault in every person? Instead of blaming it on other things or those people maybe the pastor/leaders should take ownership and change they’re treating people or how they’re acting. It’s not always other people sometimes its the leaders. Own up.

    • Tony Myles

      I love your point under your point – when is a conflict ever just one-sided? Don’t we all have something we’ve brought into it, even when we’re shaking our fists with all justification. You’re right – both pastors and congregation members need to do an evaluation.

      Perhaps where I’d offer you some counter-thought is again straight from Scripture. Doesn’t Jeremiah 17:9 caution, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” If I could upgrade your suggestion one notch, it would be that we don’t just do a self-evaluation or even a crowd-based one, but a biblical one. i.e. “Have I been faithful to Jesus in this, including how I’ve handled the reconciliation process? Have I pretended like Matthew 18 doesn’t exist… or am I taking every step as Jesus commanded?”

      We tend to skip that stuff and justify ourselves through mass approval (no pun intended… although if you think about it, “mass approval” is kind of a funny thought.)

      That, of course, leads into the other biblical truth – a crowd tells us nothing about right and wrong. We could all name several movements on earth and from history that had many people involved, but were quite wrong for many reasons. In fact, Jesus Himself offered that “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” (Mat 7:13)

      In other words, make sure you don’t look for justification in how “so many people” are leaving. Perhaps we should look at the character of the many who go and who stay? Who is willing to sit down and reconcile? Who won’t and would rather huff off, grumbling the whole way?

      To top it off, we’re even told that as time goes on people in the church will miss the boat and become like the world. 2 Timothy 4:3 prophetically declares, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

      So yeah… let’s bring on the evaluations for everyone in accordance with the Spirit and Truth. As you say, we all have something to own up to, don’t we? When is a conflict every one-sided? Just imagine if we all leaned into Jesus and worked it out. What opportunities to declare Jesus are as possible as us being authentic enough to go back and reconcile?

      Now… regarding the article I actually wrote… :)

  9. Thanks for the post Tony. Subjectively, I say, “Preach it Brother!” Congregants too often “eat” their pastors and then wonder why s/he looks “chewed up and spit out.” I get fed up with lame excuses too. That is LAME excuses. I would just as soon have someone tell me, “Pastor, your preaching mannerisms annoy me and I’ve tried to get past it on a weekly basis, but I just can’t, so I’m going elsewhere” rather than, “Pastor, I’m just not getting fed!” I would respect you more for being transparent even if it’s a lame excuse.

    Objectively, I have to realize “not everyone prefers me or my style or our style.” While I might like to remind people of Acts 2 church (everyone had EVERYTHING in common–read it sometime) and you need to “grow up and become the Body of Christ you were meant to be and get over your shallow petty peccadilloes,” I also remind myself that I regularly pray, “LORD send in the people You want here at our church and take out the ones You don’t want here.”

    I’m on sabbatical right now, BTW, precisely because I became “weary in well-doing”…well I like to say, “I became weary in well-doing,” but it was really because I became “weary in ALL-doing” (because I have a pleaser personality, you know)… :)

    Thanks for sharing Brother…
    Joel

  10. I think there’s always a danger to ‘Americanize’ our church experience…that is to say, we make it a consumable – and our customer experience better be right, or we’re complaining to management or taking our business elsewhere. And it doesn’t really matter if we’re staff or members.

    Sometimes I wonder if we should make a commitment to a body of believers, the Bride of Christ, and stick with that relationship come hell or high water….

    Much like marriage, we have trivialized the importance of covenant – and relationship – in the Church and we have made it all about us. If our needs aren’t being met, if we get upset, or if someone younger and prettier comes along – we get divorced…only to find ourselves in a similar situation a little while down the road.

    The ‘shiny’ always wears off….maybe we should drop the allure of ‘glittery, wonderful church’ and start throwing all in – regardless of the work, pain, effort, planning, hurt, compromise, sacrifice….involved. Doesn’t matter what role we serve in the marriage….

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